Sound — 10
I know I skipped some albums in the catalog in our Vancouver based New Wave/Pop Rock/Pop Metal/Cheese Metal/Pop...whatever you wanna apply at this point because honestly, I really don't know where Loverboy stand in the MODERN sense at all.
Unfinished Business is a record "40 years in the making" - basically, it's a mix of demos, unfinished recordings, and ideas from Loverboy spanning from Paul Dean by himself in 1970's on piano, to some skeleton/barebones arrangements from efforts probably as recent as Wildside I'm guessing, and what's odd is this mish mash of old and new creates possibly what I think is one of the BEST "modern" rock albums ever. It's like a whole new philosophy.
Now, let's talk about members who are in their twenties, thirties, fourties, fifties, sixties through the course of this record...and this is going to probably be my longest Loverboy review... because I'm covering 4 decades worth of talent at work here....all at once...
Mike Reno - Here we have every era of Reno, old Reno, new Reno, and this is where I shall discuss my belief on 80's vocalists. It seems if you were a rocker in the '80s you either gained some weight and kept all of your vocal abilities and gained a ton more abilities on top of it - or you got a heroin habit and too many cats and can't sing anymore. Say what you will about Reno, I'd like to see YOU sing Turn Me Loose at 65 and STILL hit that high note. I used to be able to myself, and It's a goddamn struggle at 34. The fact Reno can sing with his past self here, and sound so consistent is a shock and surprise. It shows someone who has grown with his craft. He's still got the grit thing from Lovin/Wildside, the only change in Reno's voice between 20 and 60 I can hear is he changes his tonality here and there to cut more on certain passages, not sure if that's deliberate or just something developed in time, but Reno still has it.
Paul Dean - So here we have every version of Paul - ranging from 1980 64' Strat and Bicentennial Les Paul wielding Paul with ganged channel Hiwatts blaring, Get Lucky/Keep It Up Era Paul with his garage/Odyssey built mutant Dean Machine/Paul Dean II/III prototype mutant children going through Hiwatts and the Loft 450G, the Mid-80's Paul LDean with Kramers and Marshalls, and I think I hear some late 90's Dean with the Burst Strat, and current Era Paul who plays Les Paul Axxess models with dual 490T humbuckers and a Floyd Rose, and Modified Stratocasters with Floyds through Marshall JCM900s.
Bass is provided by both the Late Great Scott Smith and Spyder Sinnavieve. Both of those guys play Warwick basses mostly, though I'm not sure what amps they used, though I know of Scott using Jazz Basses, P-Basses, Spectors, and Steinbergers on occasion. I think Spyder uses Markbass heads though.
Doug Johnson on Keyboards of every variety ranging from the CS-60 from the first record, all the way through the DX7s, CMI Fairlight, Vocoders, Jupiter 8's, Prophets....and all points in between visited during the 80's, and his current setup which seems to be a Kurzweil or Roland based setup using an MacBook Pro for patch management.
Matt Frenette - Matty's here banging on the drums, four on the floor as needed, with every sound he had from the deep rich sound of the early albums, to the dry clacky Wildside era, to his current era that seems to mix quite a few different Drum Timbres....of course, I'm not an expert on drums at all, I play like a man with one leg trying to run.
Overall, this album is a VERY impressive effort. Imagine if you had a time machine, and could get every version of yourself as a musician in the same room and come up with something like this. It's an interesting concept - you are basically mixing different eras of yourself creating a sound that's modern, yet retro. That's today, yet yesterday. And THIS album is how that is done!
Honestly, it makes me want to pull out some long thought lost High School and early 20's demo tapes I made and record new recordings with those tapes and see how it comes out.
Overall, a bloody 10 - and that's RARE that I give a 10 on anything, but I love this album, the concept, the way they mixed 4 decades of themselves together creating this interesting stew of new and old. I've not been as enthralled with a new record by any old band like this except maybe The Cars MOve Like This - but listening to this feels like I just walked six miles home from Wildman Steve's with this on vinyl tucked under my arm after a day at the Auburn Guitar Shoppe on a Saturday.
Lyrics — 9
Of course It's Loverboy, simple lyrics about life and love, although there seems to be a bit more depth here than there was in the 80's. This becomes a bit more obvious on some of the more recently penned lyrics on some of the songs. We have new lyrics, and old lyrics, new Reno, and Old Reno. Let's do the track play by play....and I did no former research, or little passive actually....so let's see if I can correctly GUESS what era each song came from...
"Fire Me Up" - This sounds a lot like a nearly complete song from the "Lovin Every Minute of It" sessions, the guitar tone here is definitely Paul's Kramer guitar, and Reno singing like he did in 1985. However, the keyboards are noticeably pushed back (!!!), making this a pure all-out rocker where the keyboards are merely supplemental rather than a driving force. This is also one of the darker ones, probably Dean penned the lyrics. The only sign of any modern tampering is a little Keyboard noise that would not have existed in the 80's at the kick-off, and some of that modern distorted analog synth in some verses. Because of the age of the vocals, I can hear the innocence of the older songwriting here in this song about an abusive relationship
"Counting The Nights" - Now here is where modern and old meet in the middle. There's 2 guitars on this, one is definitely the home-built Odyssey/Hondo Paul Dean prototype from 1982 through a Marshall, the other us a flabbier guitar tone that is obviously Paul's current tone, probably with his funky ol' Strat through his current setup. The keyboards suggest this is either a 1st album or Get Lucky era song. Sounds like current era Reno sings on the verses - sort of like he's having a duet with his younger self. I can tell slightly because Reno's voice is a little crisper during the voices, and growlier. Creative use of eras. Either way, it's a bit like driving down a street in your hometown that did not change much since you left but has a few things "modernized". Sounds like a song about a breakup or a failing relationship on it's last legs.
"Ain't Such a Bad Thing" - This sounds like a new song for the most part, both by Paul's guitar tone at the start that is more midrangey and grainy indicating digital recording, and the "Rock N' Roll Revival" like tone on the other side. This is definitely current era Reno as he sticks in the lower registers a bit more, and we have modern Techno synths joining in on the verses. This must have been a VERY unfinished idea. Honestly, if Loverboy puts out new albums like this, it's be bloody amazing. It's the right mix of '80s and modern for a modern world. Here I can tell the lyrics are newer, because Loverboy - since the '90s started, have grown to be a lot more complex, and artful lyrically than their 80's party rock output. I'll be honest, I'm happy to see these guys grow.
"Come Undone" - To be honest, I'm not sure if the opening track is the old Funky Strat somewhere in the past, or currently. Guitars don't age as much as a human does in 30 years. I do know the keyboards are newer, as is the bass, that's Spyder's bass sound. AT some point, Paul's HSS Strat joins in the other channel. This song is a bit more modern and less "old". This is definatley Reno today on vocals. It has a more modern feel than a lot of other tracks on the record. This shows lyrically they can still write a good simple pop song with simple lyrics and have it sound great.
"Slave" - I think this one was supposed to be the "Most Metal" they have ever been, but this sounds more to me like Loverboy goes Psychobilly Punk, or Deep Purple. I think the rhythm guitar MAY be from the old days though, probably sometime toward the later end of Wildside. Modern Reno on vocals. More of Loverboy's more modern, matured, artful writing style here. It kind of feels a lot like something Deep Purple would do when you mix the lyrics, singing, and the Psychobilly meets Deep Purple guitar work. The part about the "Metal Hordes" though is a bit cheese but it works better.
"What Makes You so Special" - Oh Hell yeah! This is like Loverboy from "Keep It Up" or the 84' Olympics/Destruction era (My Favorite) - but with the guitars out front and in yo' face. Old Reno on vocals probably from 84' or 85', the guitar tone sounds like Dean's '83 era tone though (my favorite, that dual Super II Humbucker Odyssey Paul Dean guitar tone). What's cool is it sounds like Dean re-recorded the guitar track using his Les Paul Axxis for one part, either that or it's the Paul Dean Prototype through his current setup. The only Lovin' Every Minute Of It hint is the keyboard line, which then switches to a modern distorted version of itself with some modulated distortion thingy on it toward the end of the bridge before we get that huge 1983 wash of CMI and Prophet/Jupiter like synth pads behind guitar. Honestly, this is how I think my favorite - Keep It Up - Should have been mixed, too bad I can't find Track Stems for that album anywhere or I'd be remixing it off of this! This is the classic Loverboy that drew me to this band in the first place.
"War Bride" - Good god, another great one. This time sounding like it's from the first album almost complete with Yamaha electric piano. I can hear Doug's Yamaha CS-60 from the first album all over this track complete with that wobbly warped-record chorus. Looks like Dean kept his good ole' Funky Strat or dual P-90' Prototype on this - either that or broke it out because his guitar is more out-front on this than it was on the original records. This could have been on the first record or Get Lucky VERY easily, but the subject material is about Canadian history - and also I feel a symbolic vibe underneath. TBH, I think if Loverboy had put this on the first record, they would have maybe gotten some praise from the snooty critics because it shows they CAN write something other than just pop love and heartbreak and party music. But then if they did, maybe I would never have bought that first record at Wildman Steves back in 1998. This album gave me some newfound respect for the band's talents, it shows that just because you can, does not mean the time is right right away. On the music side, I hear some modern overdubs on guitar - I saw a clip where Dean was still using the Funky strat in the studio, so I'm sure that's overdubbed on this in places, and they fit that only someone like me, with my crazy ears, could pick out that additions.
"Doin' It The Hard Way" - This sounds like it's from Wildside era, but I could easily have seen this song finding a spot on the soundtrack for "Roadhouse", LOL. It's got the simpler lyrics, older Reno on vocals, and one of Dean's cobbled together Kramer-alikes from the Wildside era on it, I can tell because of the scratchy tone. But it sounds like Paul overdubbed himself playing slide in the current era.
"You Play the Star" - Dear god, another new favorite. This is clearly from the Keep It Up Era - from the howling hollow necked Odyssey Paul Dean guitar tone, the synths sound like a similar patch as from parts of Strike Zone, it has that darker, angrier feel of Keep It Up - but Paul's guitar is more out front, again, this album one-up's Keep It Up - my fav - on a massive level on these tracks. I'm having a hard time figuring out if it's young or old Mike singing here, he stays pretty low, but it's a low song, but the lyrics sound like Strike Zone era Paul Dean songwriting but with modern level symbolism. Gaaaah, I can't' figure out what came from where on this album aside from the guitar (C'mon, I'd know that crunchy yowling sound of a Hollow Necked Odyssey/Hondo with Super II's, I OWN one). It sounds to me to be about possible clashes with management in the industry, double entendred with Relationship material. Another song I feel Loverboy should have put on Vinyl back in the day for some versatility. For a band that "did not have any leftovers" a few years ago, they've got some real GEMs here.
"Crack of the Whip" - and the Album ends with Loverboy - seemingly Keep It Up Era, or 84'/Metropolis Soundtrack era going Jam Band. The song starts out with a weather-channel-like introduction that sounds more like Lovin' Every Minute of It era Keyboards, before a single channel of what obviously is a mix of modern and old Paul Dean guitars in the right channel, seemingly his old Kramer guitar I think. The song leads out the album with a long Paul Dean guitar solo full of whammy bar. This song is like Loverboy's "You're All Ive Got Tonight" moment, it's hard to tell if this song is a pledge of love, or a subtle put down.
Reno shows his skills through all his generations, and the lyrics comply with the music, there's some smoother feeling to the sound of words vs. what words are there with the newer lyrics in places, and it's sometimes obvious to a long time Loverboy listener and musician like me where the new and old is, but that's the fun of it, it's like listening to 4 decades of a band all at once. An experience I cannot suggest enough. Again, 10. It's new and old, Nostalgia and Spit and Shine, all at once. These are the things I look for in older bands making new music - only The Cars have won in this aspect till Loverboy pulled this one off.
I have to back off from glaring and give it a 9 - ONLY because some people who listen to this might NOT like what I love about it - the fact that the decades of production differences are very apparent in some places. I also love the fact that Paul Dean's guitar finally got brought up in the Keep It Up era mixes - I wish they'd remaster Keep It Up and Punch those Odyssey Paul Deans and old Funky 64' Strat right and left like they did here with the new and old, creating massive tunnels of guitar in places. Lovin' Every Minute of It was NOT the guitar album, THIS is.
Overall Impression — 10
I bought The Cars "Move Like This" - their first album in 24 years - that's the only contemporary I could compare it to. But The Cars created all new songs (well, more like Ric Ocasek made a bunch of new songs and thought The Cars would sound right on it minus Benjamin Orr), Loverboy dug into their demo tape stash here, and ENHANCED their old work, creating this interesting, paradoxical, mish-mash of new and old music giving it a unique and timeless vibe. I'm very impressed and think more bands should do this - c'mon Night Ranger - Jack!?!? Brad!?!? I know you guys have some old tapes floatin' around. Don't Tell Me Ya' did'nt have some Riffs laid out on the Bus on tour with Ozzy, LOL. Shoot, it's inspired ME to go listen to some of my old stuff and maybe see what I can do with it.
Standouts? The Whole album is to me, but if I pick favorites, it'd have to be the 1st album and "Keep It Up"-esque tracks like "You Play The Star" "Crack of the Whip" "War Bride" and "What Makes You So Special". It's like they took the old - added some modern day spice to it, and did it right.
Can't steal it, heck, it's on YouTube, I'm wishing they'd make a Vinyl Pressing though, just so I could take a walk to the nearby record store after a hangout at Guitar Center, and burn some calories on a long walk after some guitar store hopping like the olden days - and go buy a copy to listen to while I wipe the sweat off my face with a guitar in my lap and my ears perked up to figure it all out.